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"She was my saving grace”


GI Fellow Sukee Kesar, MDNico Pellegrino before his heart attackThird year Gastroenterology fellow at Tufts Medical Center, Sukeerti Kesar, MD, was not supposed to be there that day. It was May 12, 2019, and Dr. Kesar was at Pearson Airport with her brother, getting ready to head home to Boston after a weekend trip to Toronto. But their gate had been changed and they ended up arriving at the wrong gate. That’s when Dr. Kesar saw a man lying on the ground.

Toronto-area resident Nico Pellegrino was at the airport that day to fly to Seattle for business. A former high school athlete, Pellegrino was still physically active and healthy at age 57. While he did have a family history of heart issues on both sides, Pellegrino had never experienced any heart-related symptoms or warning signs. But that day, he went to use the bathroom as he waited to board his flight; when he came out, his heart stopped beating without warning and he collapsed.

Quick thinking

“My brain flipped modes, the nerves faded away and my medical training kicked in,” said Dr. Kesar. “It was a complete whirlwind.” 

Dr. Kesar ran over to Pellegrino and administered CPR, while other bystanders helped with compressions and retrieved an automated external defibrillator (AED), which been installed in the airport only months earlier. Pellegrino’s heart had already been shocked three times when EMS arrived on the scene and whisked him away in an ambulance – where Pellegrino flatlined again and had to be shocked once more. Upon arriving at the hospital, Pellegrino underwent an emergency cardiac catheterization procedure to place five stents to keep his blocked arteries open. Because of the quick and thorough emergency response, there was no permanent damage to Pellegrino’s heart muscle or neurologic function. He was discharged a week later.

Right place, right time

“Everything aligned for me,” said Pellegrino. “Dr. Kesar was there, the defibrillator was on hand and everyone acted so quickly. That’s why I’m here to talk about it - because people knew what to do and were willing to try to save a life.”Nico Pellegrino after surgery

In the months since his heart attack, Pellegrino has altered his diet and lifestyle to be protective of his heart; he has been feeling great. About two months after the event, Pellegrino reached out to Dr. Kesar and the two spoke by phone. Pellegrino expressed his gratitude for Dr. Kesar’s role in saving his life and reiterated how lucky and thankful he was that she was in the right place at the right time.

“Lucky is really putting it mildly,” said Pellegrino. “I had some guardian angels that day and Dr. Kesar is the biggest. Without her, I wouldn’t be here. She was my saving grace.”